A Request for Information, also known as RFI, is a formal document that an individual or organization can produce to request information from specific parties about a process or call for bids. It's a standard business practice and is usually done at the very start of the process. The goal is to help decide on a particular course of action, and aid the decision making process. This is why it's usually a starting point for other requests, such as a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quotation (RFQ).
Unlike the other types of requests, no bidding or formal proposals will be submitted to an RFI. There is no contract that will be signed for the actual completion of the work. Instead, information is given about a particular topic. For example, RFIs are used a lot in construction, where a contractor may require a clarification about a particular supplier. The request may be aimed at a particular entity, or at multiple people.
Creating a Request for Information is pretty straight forward. You do however need to have some specific information in the document so that whoever reads it knows exactly what you require. The first paragraph should be a generic description about your organization and perhaps, if needed, a confidentiality statement. Then, the scope of the RFI should be specified. Here, you should go in details as to what this process covers, why it's being done, and what brought the process in the first place. For example, if an organization needs information about new security systems for its building, the text should include information about the building, expectations, and specific security concerns.
Then, clear requirements should be laid out. A single RFI may request a series of data points. You may have several questions, in which case they should be asked precisely. If you need broader information, you should still be able to specify each domain about which you need information. This is commonly referred to as a Statement of Needs. You may also want to write in which context that information will be used. For example, a Request for Information about toilets may give very different results if it's for a commercial building versus a residential installation.
Finally, the document should clearly say how you expect the information to be given out. This includes the address where to send the results, as well as the time frame for when you require the information. Depending on the purpose of this RFI, consequences may be specified if the information isn't delivered by the needed date. It's also custom to put contact information, such as a phone number or the person assigned to this RFI, so the people reading the document will know who to contact in case there's a need for clarification.
Overall a RFI process is pretty simple. It's something that is done commonly and can be quite straight forward as long as the basic information above is provided. The most important thing is to make sure everything is clearly stated so there is no ambiguity.
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